Comment: Time for room service to R.I.P.?

By Colleen Isherwood, Editor

Ah, the great room service debate. “Room service a vanishing luxury,” the Toronto Star headline read last month, noting that the full-service New York Hilton Midtown Manhattan was planning to discontinue room service. That day, no fewer than three of my colleagues brought the article to my attention. It is clearly an issue that interests many people.

So, here’s my first question: is there a place for room service in this day and age?

I personally don’t use room service very much, but there are certain instances where it is a lifesaver. For example, when my kids were in their teens, Steve and I would combine business with a family vacation. The kids thought it was a huge treat to be allowed to stay in the room while we attended a dinner function. They would order room service, watch movies or play video games. Kid Nirvana.

And then there are the special room service experiences—like dinner delivered on a bike at Jasper Park Lodge, or room service breakfast on the balcony at a luxury resort in the Caribbean.

But as a woman travelling alone on business, I’m just as happy going to a nearby restaurant that will deliver food quickly and treat you with respect. When travelling with my husband, I want full-on restaurant dining and ambiance.

As for breakfast in the morning—I really don’t want wait staff to see me in my nightclothes. I’m not a morning person. Just give me my in-room coffee and let me wake up slowly.

If room service is on the decline, hoteliers have only themselves to blame. Over the past five years, there has been a push to get guests into increasingly comfortable, wired lobbies with communal tables for eating. Some hotels have a lobby setup that can convert from breakfast service to bar service. If hotels are trying to get guests out of their rooms, doesn’t it follow that those guests will be less likely to order room service?

Here’s my second question: is room service really going to disappear or is the Toronto Star article simply a headline grabber?

I think I’d agree with comments by Brian Stanford of PKF. Stanford said that we shouldn’t expect luxury Toronto hotels to abandon room service anytime soon. He told the Star: “In most cases, hotel services are dictated by brand standards internationally and it is unlikely that brands such as Marriott, Hilton, IHG or Starwood would look to eliminate room service from their operations globally.”

Nevertheless, I wouldn’t bet on room service as a burgeoning trend of the future. According PKF, room service represented only 1.2 per cent of total hotel revenue last year, down from 1.3 per cent in 2011.

The third questions is: if room service is disappearing, what will replace it?

Perhaps all room service needs is a new twist. The brown bag approach has some merit. Hilton is apparently testing this no-frills room service alternative across all of its brands, including the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu. A brown bag with a bagel and fruit left by the door would help me avoid early-morning human contact.

The lobby cum living/dining room is another alternative.

As a final note, here’s an interesting solution to one pesky room service problem. Birddog Solutions has developed a Tray/Trolley Tracker software that provides hotels with real time detection of room service trays and trolleys sitting outside guest rooms for pickup. Sounds good to me!